Why are we ashamed to ask for help?
I don’t know when I received the message, but it was this: “If you ask for help, you’re weak.”
It must have been when I was very young, because I remember that for some reason, I always kept my struggles to myself. My stress to myself. My anxiety to myself.
I remember even making an attempt to reach out to my mom once and say: “Hey…I think I have an eating disorder.” And that was the end of that. She cared of course, but she didn’t know what to do. And it just further reinforced the idea that I had to do ‘life’ alone, because no one understood me.
Where the HELL does this come from
I believe there’s this really interesting thing in American culture that we have to ‘be the hero’ and ‘do it ourselves’. We love these images of people who seemed to have done it all single handedly…
..and yet how many times do we question what’s going on behind closed doors?
That perhaps that person is ashamed to admit they’ve had help. That as a busy mom, you have a nanny. That as a busy professional, you have a cleaner. Because what happens then?
It shatters the perfect ‘Superwoman’ image.
Oh…you have HELP? For some reason, it’s like it doesn’t all count anymore. And for some other reason, it’s sexier to hear that you’re ‘doing it all’ while also scrubbing your floor. How and WHY is that a better way?
But when I really think about this, it isn’t just about people and what they learned growing up from their parents. There are so many other factors that go into it your head would explode trying to examine them all. That’s why it’s convenient to point to one thing: “Well, I was taught asking for help is weak from my parents, so yeah.”
But What Is ‘Asking For Help’ Anyway?
Too often, we think it’s this dramatic scene where we’ve arrived at rock bottom and are clawing at someone’s ankles to help save us. That’s not what ‘asking for help’ is. That’s desperation.
Asking for help is simply admitting that there’s something you don’t know, or are not able to do. And more importantly, that you’re willing to learn what you don’t know and are willing to receive the help.
Example 1: A busy mom with kids who has a full and close to bursting plate
What ‘asking for help’ isn’t: I need you to do this for me or I’m never going to be able to get it done! Panic and frustration ensues.
What ‘asking for help’ is: I’d love to have you come to my house and clean for a few hours once a month (or even once a week).
Can we really say that you (or anyone else) is ‘weak’ for asking someone to do a job they enjoy, and a job that you don’t have the time to do? It would be like saying a company who’s looking to hire and grow their team is ‘weak’–shouldn’t the CEO be able to do it all herself? Once you actually break down that logic it falls to pieces. Asking for help is not a privilege or a luxury–it’s essential. (But think about why we equate ‘asking for help’ with luxury. What messages do we get from the media about it? That rich people have nannies, chefs, and assistants. Always ask where the thought and logic is coming from. Is it even valid?)
Example 2: A busy, ambitious, professional woman who wants to feel more charisma and confidence when entering a room and communicating with people
What ‘asking for help’ isn’t: Reading books and blogs and then doing nothing. It’s the infamous “That’s a great idea!” line we use and then we go back to doing something else
What ‘asking for help’ is: Can you teach me how to do this? And then following through and applying what you learn.
Notice that you don’t need to explain yourself. You don’t need to write a novel why you deserve to hire help, or get someone to teach you something.
Just think about it as if you were a kid again
What I love about kids is that they have infectious curiosity. They are never too ashamed or superior to ask: Why? to the most basic of things.
It’s like when a child asks why the sky is blue. We dismiss that as simple, basic, common sense stuff. But it’s actually fascinating to learn WHY the sky is blue. There’s science behind it! History! Mystery!
So when you deprive YOURSELF of that–of allowing yourself to ask: Can someone help me? Can someone teach me?–you lose the knowledge you would have gained, the experience that would have enriched you, the skill that would have lasted you a lifetime.
But we’re still embarrassed
I also believe what we’ve been taught again and again is that ‘we should already know’ certain things. Take talking to people, for example. We feel like there’s something ‘wrong’ if we don’t know how to do it. And maybe you do know how to make small talk and chat with strangers, but what about if you’re introverted and it feels unnatural? What if you just can’t get along with your co-worker, or your boss (that’s negatively impacting your career)? What if you just want to stop feeling like you need to constantly come up with new topics of conversation or something interesting to say?
Is there really anything ‘wrong’ with wanting to be at ease in any social situation? Is there really anything ‘bad’ about asking someone to teach you how to build confidence, talk to anyone, build deeper relationships, and make sure that how you *think* you’re coming across is how people *actually* perceive you?
I really want to hear from you: What feels embarrassing or scary about asking for help, especially when it comes to improving communication skills? Reply back to this email–I’d love to hear what you think.